The Vienna Circle and American Philosophy: an Intercultural Dialogue

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Course Information
Discipline(s): 
Philosophy
Terms offered: 
Spring
Credits: 
3
Language of instruction: 
English
Contact Hours: 
45
Prerequisites: 

Since the course serves as an introduction to the ideas of the Vienna Circle, and each technical term will be carefully explained and clarified, previous training in philosophy is an advantage but by no means a prerequisite. Some genuine interest in philosophical problems is, however, presupposed.

 

Additional student cost: 

The field-trip to Budapest is optional and although IES contributes to the expenses with 30 EUROs, about 60 EUROs for lodging, food etc. can be expected if one travels to Budapest for a week-end.

Description: 

The movement called the Vienna Circle (roughly between 1922-1936), including eminent scientist and philosophers like Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, or Otto Neurath, had a very significant impact on the intellectual history of both Europe and the United States. The course proposes to concentrate on the following problems: the status of language (why and how language became a problem for philosophy at all); the logical analysis of language (its method and significance); the critique of metaphysics; the verification principle (establishing the truth of sentences containing experienced- based (empirical) statements about the world); the relationship between language and world (with special reference to Wittgenstein’s picture-theory in the Tractatus and to his later work, Philosophical Investigations, building on the Tractatus but rejecting some of its most significant tenets); and the ‘sense’ of non-empirical sentences, i.e. the sentences of ethics, aesthetics and theology). Thus, the logic of the course, somewhat also figuring the order in which the Circle encountered its problems, is the following: it proceeds from language to world (reality), and then goes back to the user of language, the human being.

 

Attendance policy: 

See IES Abroad Vienna Handbook.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Learn about the basic concepts of the philosophy of the Vienna Circle and the early Wittgenstein
  • Indicate growing expertise in the ability to reproduce arguments and in critical thinking
  • Take a stand, both in writing and orally, in philosophical debates
  • Evaluate the feasibility of a certain position, including their own.
Method of presentation: 

There will be 20 ninety minute-long sessions. We will be discussing the material under the sub-title “Compulsory reading”, assigned for each meeting.

The reading mostly contains classic pieces by members of, and philosophers associated with, the Vienna Circle, together with some important, later interpretations; less technical and relatively easily available articles have been selected. The compulsory readings (i.e. the texts to be read) will be available through MOODLE. The course will pay careful attention to the intercultural aspects of the ideas of the Vienna Circle: the intellectual climate under which these ideas were formed, how the thoughts of its members found an echo outside of Austria, and how they made a lasting influence on philosophical thinking in England and in the United States. The course will use the lecture-format, especially at the beginning of the term but will also welcome discussions and debates throughout the term.

 

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Take-home Midterm exam:– 40 % :  three short essays, answering three questions out of the choice of six, testing (1) familiarity with the basic concepts covered, (2) the ability to reproduce arguments (3) critical thinking: taking a stand, evaluating the feasibility of a certain position
  • Take-home Final exam – 50 % : there will be some excerpts from the compulsory readings and you will have to comment on these
  • Class participation – 10 % : activity in class, taking part in the discussion. Absences should be excused. If you cannot attend for some serious reasons (such as illness or emergency), please contact, if possible, the Registrar in the Registrar’s Office (personally, or by phone) before the class you are going to miss. If you feel you have problems, come to see me, or send me an e-mail: [email protected]

 

content: 
Week Topics  Readings
1
  • Getting acquainted and introduction
  • Rationalism, empiricism, phenomenology and positivism: ways of doing philosophy
  • The Vienna Circle and the intellectual climate of Vienna
  • Friedrich Stadler, “Aspects of the Social Background and Position of the Vienna Circle at the University of Vienna” in T. E. Uebel (ed.), Rediscovering the Forgotten Vienna Circle, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991, pp. 51-77
  • Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, The Lord Chandos Letter, trans. from the German by Russell Stockman, Marlboro, Vermont: The Marlboro Press, 1986, pp. 11-33
2
  • Background to the philosophical method of the Vienna Circle: the function of philosophy (Russell)
  • Background to the philosophical method of the Vienna Circle: the problem of meaning and the function of logic (Frege)
  • Bertrand Russell, “Appearance and Reality”, “The Existence of Matter” and “The Nature of Matter” In: Russell, Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-18)
  • Gottlob Frege, “Sense and Reference” (trans. by Max Black), The Philosophical Review 57,
  • Issue 3, (May, 1948), pp. 209-230.
3

 

 

  • The philosophical goal of the Vienna Circle
  • The philosophical program of the Vienna Circle

 

  • Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn, “The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle”, in Otto Neurath, Empiricism and Sociology, (The Vienna Circle Collection, Vol. 1), ed. and trans. by M. Neurath and R. Cohen, Dordrecht and Boston: Reidel Publishing Company, 1971, pp. 301-318.
  • Moritz Schlick, “The Turning-Point in Philosophy”, in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 154-160.
4
  • Positivism I and II
 
  • Moritz Schlick: “Positivism and Realism” in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925- 1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 259-284.
  • Otto Neurath, “Protocol Sentences” (transl. by George Schick), in Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 199-208.
5
  • Verification, Experience, Meaning I and II
  • Moritz Schlick, “Meaning and Verification” (written in English, 1936) in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979, pp. 456-481.
  • A. J. Ayer, “Verification and Experience” in Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 228-243.
6
  • Phenomenology, metaphysics, and the problem of meaning
  • Midterms Due
  • Martin Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics?” (1929) In: Heidegger, Martin: Pathmarks. William McNeill, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 82-96.
  • Rudolf Carnap, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language” (trans. by Arthur Pap, 1932), In: Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 60-81.
7
  • Ethics and challenges
  • The challenge: Willard van Orman Quine
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, “A Lecture on Ethics” (1929, in English)) In: Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, Klagge, James and Alfred Nordmann eds., Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993, pp. 36-44.
  • W. O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” In: American Philosophy. A Historical Anthology, ed. Barbara MacKinnon, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, pp. 557-569.
8
  • The Vienna Circle and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus
  • Marie McGinn, “The Single Great Problem” Chapter 1 in Marie McGinn, Elucidating the Tractatus, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006, pp. 1-27.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, (1921, 1961), 1989, paragraphs 1-3;
  • Marie McGinn, “The Opening of the Tractatus” Chapter 6 in Marie McGinn, Elucidating the Tractatus, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006, pp. 134-161.
9
  • Towards a new understanding of the Tractatus
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, (1921, 1961), 1989, paragraphs 4-4.25; 4.46-4.5; 5.552- 5.641; 6.124-7
  • Cora Diamond, “Ethics, Imagination and the Method of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus” in The New Wittgenstein, eds. by Alice Crary and Rupert Read, London and New York: Routledge, 2000, pp. 149-173.
10
  • The Tractatus: mysticism and the problem of nonsense
  • Finals Due
  • Summary and Conclusion
  • Michael Morris and Julian Dodd, “Mysticism and Nonsense in the Tractatus”, European Journal of Philosophy (ISSN 0966-8373), 2007, pp. 1–30 (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford).

 

 

Required readings: 
  • Ayer, A. J. (ed.), Logical Positivism, Glencoe: Free Press, 1960.
  • Ayer, A. J., “Verification and Experience” in Logical Positivism, A J. Ayer, ed., Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 228-243.
  • Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, (1912), 1959.
  • Carnap, Rudolf, “The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language” (trans. by Arthur Pap, 1932), in A J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism, Glencoe: Free Press, 1960, pp. 60-81.
  • Crary, Alice and Rupert Read, The New Wittgenstein, London and New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • Diamond, Cora, “Ethics, Imagination and the Method of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus” in The New
  • Wittgenstein, eds. by Alice Crary and Rupert Read, 2000, pp. 149-173.
  • Frege, Gottlob, “Sense and Reference” (trans. by Max Black), The Philosophical Review 57, Issue 3, (May, 1948), pp. 209-230.
  • Heidegger, Martin, “What is Metaphysics?” (1929) in Martin Heidegger, Pathmarks, 1998, pp. 82-96.
  • Heidegger, Martin: Pathmarks. William McNeill, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • MacKinnon, Barbara (ed.), American Philosophy. A Historical Anthology, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.
  • McGinn, Marie , The Single Great Problem” Chapter 1 in Marie McGinn, Elucidating the Tractatus, 2006, pp. 1-27.
  • McGinn, Marie “The Opening of the Tractatus” Chapter 6 in Marie McGinn, Elucidating the Tractatus, 2006, pp. 134-161.
  • McGinn, Marie, Elucidating the Tractatus, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.
  • Morris, Michael and Julian Dodd, “Mysticism and Nonsense in the Tractatus”, European Journal of Philosophy (ISSN 0966-8373), 2007, pp. 1–30 (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford).
  • Neurath, Otto Rudolf Carnap and Hans Hahn, “The Scientific Conception of the World: The Vienna Circle”,in Otto Neurath, Empiricism and Sociology, 1971, pp. 301-318.
  • Neurath, Otto, “Protocol Sentences” (transl. by George Schick), in A. J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism, pp. 199-208.
  • Neurath, Otto, Empiricism and Sociology (The Vienna Circle Collection, Vol. 1), ed. and trans. by M. Neurath and R. Cohen, Dordrecht and Boston: Reidel Publishing Company, 1971.
  • Quine, W. O., “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” in Barbara MacKinnon (ed.), American Philosophy. A Historical Anthology, , Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, pp. 557-569.
  • Russell, Bertrand “Appearance and Reality”, “The Existence of Matter”, “The Nature of Matter” and “Idealism” in Russell, Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy, (1912), 1959, pp. 7-45.
  • Russell, Bertrand, The Problems of Philosophy, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1912), 1959.
  • Schlick, Moritz “Meaning and Verification” in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) 1979, pp. 456-481.
  • Schlick, Moritz “The Turning-Point in Philosophy”, in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925- 1936) 1979, pp. 154-160.
  • Schlick, Moritz, “Positivism and Realism” in Moritz Schlick, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) 1979, pp. 259-284.
  • Schlick, Moritz, Philosophical Papers, Vol. II, (1925-1936) (Vienna Circle Collection Vol. 11), Eds. by Henk L. Mulder and Barbara F. B. Van de Velde-Schlick, Trans. by Peter Heath, Wilfred Sellars, Herbert Fiegl and May Brodbeck, Dordrecht, Boston and London: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1979
  • Stadler, Friedrich “Aspects of the Social Background and Position of the Vienna Circle at the University of Vienna” in T. E. Uebel (ed.), Rediscovering the Forgotten Vienna Circle, 1991, pp. 51-77.
  • Uebel, T. E. (ed.), Rediscovering the Forgotten Vienna Circle, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991
  • von Hoffmannsthal, Hugo, The Lord Chandos Letter, trans. from the German by Russell Stockman, Marlboro, Vermont: The Marlboro Press, 1986, pp. 11-33
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuiness, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, (1921, 1961), 1989.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig, “A Lecture on Ethics” (1929, in English)) in Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, 1993, pp. 36-44.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig: Philosophical Occasions, 1912-1951, Klagge, James and  alfred Nordmann eds., Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.